Through it didn’t seem at halftime that it would be, Wednesday night’s Central Counties League boys’ basketball game between host McGraw and Madison was befitting of a matchup between two of the state’s top Class D squads.
The Blue Devils, the top-ranked team in the state, took a 37-23 lead into halftime before a furious rally by the ninth-ranked Eagles, capped by an off-balance 3-pointer by junior guard Kevin Shorts as time ran out in regulation, tied the contest at 61. The two teams were twice in overtime, at 63-63 and 65-65, before the visitors scored the next six points — four on free throws by senior guard Tyler Hummer — and went on to win 72-67.
The Blue Devils stayed perfect in the league after 10 games and are 16-0 overall. McGraw absorbed its first league loss after 10 victories and is now 15-2 overall.
“The turnaround was primarily due to the energy in the locker room,” Eagles coach Matt Martins said. “This team never gives up. We were down by 14 an no one hung their head. They stayed focused on what we needed to do — play tough defense and get easy transition points off steal, and find the open player and drive to the basket. We were a little hesitant in the third quarter, but we changed that in the third and kept it going in the fourth.”
“In the first half we stacked the middle of the zone, going from a 2-3 to a 3-2. We know their players from pervious years, but we didn’t know about (junior guard) Colton Stone. he came out of nowhere, and had 15 points — all on 3-pointers. We went box-and-one on him for a little while in the second half and had Kevin guard him. He only had one 3-pointer in each of the last two quarters after hitting three in the second quarter.”
“I wasn’t concerned about their momentum going into overtime,” Madison coach Dan Mitchell said. “I was more concerned with the way we played a little tentatively down the stretch. This is a pretty good group of kids that likes to work hard, and McGraw is a heck of a team that is well-coached.
“They played well and shot well to get back in it. We were going to foul (Shorts) at the end, before he could shoot, but they got him the ball quickly. It’s a good thing we had been on the other end of a game like this, hitting a three at the buzzer and a two as overtime expire to beat Central Valley Academy 68-67 (on Jan. 12). We didn’t stop moving the ball or attacking the basket, and made some shots at the end while they didn’t.”
The Eagles had the lead once in the first half, 11-10 on a free throw by senior forward Jordan Cowen with 1:27 left in the first quarter. Madison then scored the last eight points of the stanza, five coming from Hummer, to lead 18-11 after the first eight minutes. Shorts hit a trey to make it 18-14 eight seconds into the second, but the Blue Devils then took control with a 12-2 run — keyed by Stone’s trio of 3-pointers — and were up by as many as 16, at 37-21, before Cowen scored the last basket of the first half to make it 37-23 at intermission.
McGraw scored the first eight points of the third quarter, four coming from junior forward Dakota Stauber, and outscored the Blue Devils 17-10 over the eight-minute stretch to trail 47-40 entering the fourth. An 8-0 run by the hosts to start the final period, capped a 3-pointer from Shorts, gave the eagles a 48-47 lead with 6:36 left. A jumper by junior forward Sam Matteson gave the visitors the lead back, at 49-48, before a layup by Stauber and two free throws by Matteson switched the lead twice more. Madison built its lead to four, at 57-53, with 2:50 left before McGraw came back to retake the lead, 58-57, on a trey by Stauber with 1:15 left. Madison answered right back on a 3-pointer by junior guard Spencer Haviland 13 seconds later and Matteson added a free throw with 15.8 seconds left to make it 61-58.
Martins called a timeout and, after Hummer almost came up with a steal but traveled on the inbounds pass, called another one with 5.2 ticks left on the clock. This time the inbounds pass went to Shorts, who banked the game-tying three-pointer in off the glass from the top of the key while off-balance. as time expired.
After Hummer scored twice and McGraw responded each time, on a basket by Shorts and two free throws by sophomore Chris Pickert, the visitors scored the next six points — four on free throws by Hummer — to lead 71-65 with 14.4 seconds left and end the suspense.
“Free throws would have helped out,” Martins said. “We went 8-for-23 from the line and Madison was 11-for-22. But I’m proud of the way the guys played; they left it all on the court. Tuesday we get to do this again, in Madison.”
The Blue Devils, meanwhile, can clinch at least a tie for the league championship by beating winless Otselic Valley in the road Friday.
Cowen led McGraw with 19 points while Shorts had 14, Stauber 11 and senior guard Devon Tuttle 10. No other statistics were available for the hosts. Hummer led the Blue Devils with 19 points and had 10 assists, while Matteson also had a double-double with 17 points and 21 rebounds. Stone finished with his 15 points and senior forward Lincoln Pisiak had 11.
THE MCGRAW JVS ROMPED OVER MADISON 66-42 to improve to 16-1 as Chase Carter scored 14 points and Adam Nieves had 13.